Dec. 28, 2019

THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH, 2019

LOVE IS THE STRENGTH AND BEAUTY OF FAMILY LIFE

Readings: 1st- Sir. 3:2-6, 12-14; 2nd- Col. 3:12-21; Gospel- Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23

The beauty of the Holy Family is that everyone is present, available to make the sacrifice for the good of the family. Joseph is available as husband and father. He is present for Mary. He listens to the angel’s warning about Herod’s devilish intention. He acts like a responsible father and husband, “rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.” Joseph stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod. Again, when Joseph was informed about the death of Herod, he took his family and began the journey back to Israel only to hear that Herod had been succeeded by his son Archelaus. Joseph diverted to Galilee in accordance with the voice of the Lord and settled in the town of Nazareth. This was to protect the infant Jesus from being massacred.

Mary was under the protection of the husband. Mary followed Joseph obediently. She made sacrifices for the unborn Jesus letting herself be moved from their homeland to Egypt, and back to Nazareth. Mary faced the inconveniences of motherhood brought about by her pregnancy. Mary was present for her son and they all lived like refugees in Egypt. What a sacrifice!

Jesus is the protagonist in the entire drama of the Holy Family’s escape and struggle for survival. He is the one being hunted after by the treacherous Herod. Jesus is the infant-king perceived to be a threat to the kingship of the time. For that reason, he was targeted to be killed. Jesus brought the presence of God in the family. Darkness tried to eliminate him but as John wrote, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5).

Ben Sirach extols the authority of parents in the first reading. Approaching from what seemed like a patriarchal society, he set the authority of the father to be unquestionable. For Sirach, to honor the father is to show reverence to God. The same extends to the mother. God confirms a mother’s authority over her sons. Therefore, the honor due to parents is not negotiable because God commands respect and obedience. Children must show respect to their parents especially when they are old and unable to care for themselves. Such is a divine obligation.

Paul gives us the keys to family life- “Put on as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col. 3:12-13). With compassion, family members stay connected with each other. Heartfelt compassion looks for ways to help. It seeks to support and to offer less judgment. Heartfelt compassion generates feelings for persons in need. Kindness moves compassion to action. Humility embraces services for one another. Humility and gentleness inspire commitment to the course of the other in family life. A humble brother or sister is available in a selfless manner. Patience is like the marble upon which other virtues rest while love is the umbrella that shelters them. With patience, one can accommodate one’s brother or sister. With patience, one can bear with the weakness or shortcomings of one’s family members. Patience prompts forgiveness. And Saint Paul says, “put on love” as “the bond of perfection.” Remember that he had already stated that the greatest of all virtues is love. A family that embraces love practice other virtues like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

If we look at the life of Joseph, we see a father who was present for his family. We see a man whose sacrificial love provided paternal protection that the family needed. When Paul asks wives to be subordinate to their husbands, what does that imply? Be slaves to their husbands? No. I know that some feminists would be uncomfortable with this passage. But Paul is not asking wives to lose their feminine identity. He is not asking women to be mere tools in the hands of their men. This is explained in the verse that follows where the apostle writes, “Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.” Mary was obedient to Joseph. She moved to Egypt at his command. Joseph was the one who saw the dream about Herod’s threat against Jesus. Mary didn’t. But Mary didn’t hesitate to move because the man requested. Rather, she knew that it was for their good. They had an agreement and all of them moved. Joseph loved his family. Joseph cared for them. Joseph showed heartfelt compassion to Mary and her child. Joseph was kind-hearted. Joseph was humble, gentle and patient with Mary. He treated her with affection. Joseph’s love elicited Mary’s obedience.

What do we learn from the Holy Family? I had a conversation with a friend recently who described himself as a tough man. He told me that it is hard being a tough husband and that his wife had got used to his toughness. When I asked him how it feels being a tough husband, he said to me, “My neck hurts. My wife has been twisting it to the point that I feel the pain.” Joseph’s neck didn’t hurt because Joseph didn’t make it stiff. Mary didn’t twist Joseph’s neck because it was easy for her. Mary was interested in moving with Joseph, not just moving him. Together, they traveled to Egypt for the safety of the family. Together, they fought against the external forces of Herod. Joseph’s neck didn’t hurt because he didn't hurt Mary.

There was research some time ago that tried to study the causal relationship or correlation between being married and living long. It stated that married men lived longer than men who didn’t marry. Someone who was analyzing that research said that it’s not just that married men live longer but that marriage rather makes life seem longer especially if you marry a woman who keeps twisting your neck. So, a relationship where the woman struggles to twist the neck of the tough husband and the husband struggles to resist the twisting of the neck by his wife would seem like a really long life. We don’t need that.

Let us learn from the Holy Family to care for one another in our family. Let us learn to support, accommodate, empathize, and forgive. Let us learn to show kindness and compassion. Children, please care for your parents even or especially when they begin to age. Don’t dump them in any old people’s home and just call them once in a month. Last time when I shared my excitement about going home, an old lady said to me, “It is hard to get old. When you get old, you have no home. You simply become home to yourself.” We must be there for our parents, respect them and accommodate their shortcomings. Let us show love because love makes us present. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never judges. Love isn’t boastful. Love is the beauty and strength of family life because it brings God to the center of our relationships.

May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph bless our own families.